Dom Perignon and dog hair… or when Fido and Fluffy are part of the permanent crew

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I’m sure you can all think of an array of things one is likely to find onboard a super yacht.. A fifty euro note left in one of the deckhands’ pockets after a Saturday night out, dirty mugs of tea in the Captain’s cabin, that polo the engineer swore he never got back from the laundry and the ring that charter guest lost last season. But here’s one you probably haven’t heard of before: a fat ginger cat staring at you with his big green eyes, lurking behind the laundry basket.

This happened to a chief stewardess friend of mine when she joined the 90m motor yacht Nero and was quite surprised to make acquaintance with Nelson, a considerably sized marmalade tom. This classic style mega yacht was built in Singapore and it was when the crew was on their way to bring her back to Europe that they found the kitty stowaway. They decided to keep him. Nelson was oblivious to the high-end super yacht standards surrounding him as he’d slurp from the tap, pitter-patter over the surfaces and apparently was a bit of a noisy puss swaggering around the crew corridors at night, miaowing whole heartedly. Singing sea-shanties perhaps?

There are quite a few boats that have a fluffy footed friend who is as much part of the boat as the dock lines and deckhands are.

Like onboard the bold and eccentric 119m mega yacht A for example. Mr. Melnichenko’s, (the owner) pet pooch ‘Vala’ saunters around the decks and does her business on the purpose built squares of lawn on the foredeck. When entering New Zealand the Russian billionaire apparently didn’t want their pedigree pup to be taken into quarantine like other hoi polloi hounds, so an undisclosed sum was paid to Kiwi officials so Vala could stay onboard while a vet was flown in for ten days to monitor this doggy-diva’s quarantine time. And Melnichenko isn’t the only owner who prefers to sail the seas with his tail wagging friend.

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I once worked on a 55m classic schooner where the boss and his wife would invariably bring their much loved, long haired cat Gurine along. So as well as cleaning the heads twice a day came the emptying out of the kitty litter and the trailing of those four padded feet around with a Hoover. Not a big deal really when compared to the boys’ extra work. They each had to take turns in being on ‘cat-watch’, which entailed closely following kitty cat at all times in case she padded too close to the caprail. One evening however while serving the owner, who in a jolly mood spontaneously threw a cat toy at me, which, obedient stew as I am, I caught in a cat-like fashion. He thought it absolutely hilarious and subsequently, when having a big group of guests to entertain, would ask me to re-enact this. Can you imagine?? Oh the shame! Also you should have seen the look on the cat’s face.

Of course there’s a long history of dogs and cats at sea. One of the most famous tomcat tales features Unsinkable Sam, (formerly known as Oscar) who served on board three vessels and survived the sinking of all of them. He started out as ship’s cat aboard the German battleship Bismarck. When the ship sunk in 1941 Oscar was found floating on a board and was scooped up from the water by the crew of the destroyer HMS Cossack, which shortly after also sunk, killing 159 of her crew. Again, Sam survived and was adopted by the sailors of the HMS Ark Royal. Sam finished his sailor-ship after believe-it-or-not the HMS Ark Royal was torpedoed and sunk in November of that year and he was rescued for the third time. He was found clinging unto a floating piece of wreckage and was described as “angry but quite unharmed”. Sam saw out the rest of the war living in a seaman’s home in Belfast.

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Then there’s polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914 on which he took no less than 69 dogs. The dogs which included a Slobbers, a Snapper, a Stumps and a Sweep, helped keep the men occupied and entertained during those long months of drifting on the unforgiving South Atlantic Ocean. And at least as adventurous was Tarzoon, the cat who served as American solo sailor Tania Aebi’s side kick. This well travelled puss spent more than 20 years at sea clocking up at least as many miles as your average super yacht captain.

So maybe it’s not so surprising then that mega yacht owners choose to bring their four legged friends to sea as of course people and pets have been allies furever. Also, don’t forget, both Patches and Puddles might seem to just be lazing around in the sun but have actually been adventuring and exploring way before us ‘hoomans’ set out to sea..

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